TIO California: Boonville & the Telluride Wine Fest

TIO California: Boonville & the Telluride Wine Fest

Like Telluride, it’s a little town with big-time charm – and the perfect stop on our march up the coast from Los Angeles to Bellevue, Washington, for a family wedding.


Boonville, California was founded in 1862 by John Burgots. The Tinker Toy town was originally called The Corners, then Kendall’s City, until W.W. Boone bought a store and gave the place its current name. Back in the day, because of its isolation (and Prohibition), locals created and spoke their own language, Boontling. The restaurant now known as Aquarelle once boasted a sign our front calling the place “The Horn of Ziece.” Translation: a cup of coffee or Bootling for “coffee shop.”

Located about two hours north of San Francisco, Bonnville is the largest town in the Anderson Valley, a 15-mile stretch that runs northwest through southern Mendocino country, traversing some of the most beautiful country in the state: sheltering oaks and sprawling apple orchards fill in the blanks between vineyards of Chard & Pinot. (Two-thirds of the Valley is planted with Pinot, much of which is used for Chardonnay and sparkling wine.)


Napa and Sonoma counties have been buying Mendocino grapes for years. If you are a poet of Pinot, count on the fact your tipple of choice was made from a blend that included grapes from the Anderson Valley, where boutique wineries dot the countryside, their tasting rooms hugging Highway 128.

In the run-up to the 33rd annual Telluride Wine Festival, given the short time we were able to allot to the Boonville layover, we had just enough time to visit two tasting rooms – Foursight and Philllips Hill – both because of personal connections.

We met Joe Webb of Foursight Wines at the aforementioned Aquarelle, where we enjoyed a bottle of his Pinot Noir and the California fusion cuisine of chef Christina Jones, a prodigal daughter of Boonville.

Joe and his wife Kristy Charles, daughter of the vineyard owners, were also guests at Aquarelle, where local and organic produce and meats conspire to produce riffs on international classics such as crab cakes, Israeli cous cous and vegetable bowl and Moroccan meat balls (our choice). Small plates featured the signature truffle fries, roasted garlic mac ’n cheese, and our pick, PEI mussels, steamed in a curry sweet Thai chili broth, so good we swiped the plate clean with the homemade bread, seasoning the end of the dish with a tablespoon of regret. The smiles from the staff who greeted us when we walked through the door were just as warm as the vibe in town. And despite the fact Aquarelle was nearly full that Monday night, the place was relatively subdued. No wall of noise that’s part of the furniture at almost any scene-y restaurant. Just the steady buzz of appreciative chatter.


Foursight Wines is a small, family owned and operated winery founded in 2006 by Bill and Nancy Charles, long-time winegrowers, along with daughter Kristy and Webb, who holds a degree in winemaking and wine business from Sonoma State. The name signifies four generations of one family living and working the same piece of land in the Anderson Valley, roughly 42 acres with 15 planted to produce Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.


Foursight’s goal, per Webb, is to highlight the best of the vineyard and of Anderson Valley in their output. Translation: minimal intervention from vine to bottle. Foursight is the only producer in the Valley whose wines are vegetarian and vegan friendly. To underline the point of no filters of fish bladders or egg whites, all ingredients are listed on the label.

From Foursight, we traveled to nearby Philo to visit Phillips Hill Winery, whose tasting room is located in a restored apple drying barn. Over the years, the original 53-acre Day Ranch was used to raise sheep and grow apples, pears and grapes. The Oswald family, farming in Mendocino County since the 1950s, purchased the Day Ranch in the mid-1970s and planted Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes to grow alongside their crops. By 1979, over 100 acres of vineyards were planted.

phillip hill bottles

The tasting room visible from Highway 128 retains telltale elements of its past: weathered redwood siding originally milled from trees grown on the property, apple drying equipment, original wooden staircase and furnishings. Nearby ponds, willows and small apple and pear orchards are reminders of a bygone era.

Like Webb, the vineyards of the Valley speak through Toby Hill’s wines: place (or terroir) makes the race. Manipulation in the cellar is kept to a bare minimum.

Hill works with partner Natacha Durandet, a charming sommelier and foodie, originally from the Loire Valley in France. However, his formal training is in art, not viticulture: Hill holds a BFA from California College of the Arts. For him, winemaking became a natural extension of exploring abstract composition on canvas to create a viscerally pleasing work of art: balance begins in the vineyard and is fully experience in the bottle. Hill defines the challenge of winemaking as a quest for the taste of fruit without cloying sweetness and with lower alcohols; elegance, finesse, energy and restraint are the Holy Grail.

Which puts Hill (and Webb) on the same page as San Francisco Chronicle’s wine critic, Jon Bonne, author of “The New California Wines,” and a guest at the upcoming 33rd annual Telluride Wine Festival, in association with the Telluride Ski Resort. Thursday, June 26 – Sunday, June 29. Bonne is all about wines that “show nuance and a deep evocation of place.”

Bonn_New CA Wine

For a place to rest on our overnight in the Anderson Valley, we chose the historic Boonville Hotel, which I recall dates back to the mid-19th century. The digs are now owned by the Schmidt/Bates family, who also own The Apple Farm in Philo. Like Aquarelle, the staff was friendly and helpful.

Charming, well-appointed casitas and bungalows are scattered about in strategic locations on the beautiful grounds, but we chose to stay upstairs in the original building. Decor in the room is minimal, but includes all the essentials: bed, lamps, well-appointed bath, hi-speed Internet. But no TV. Management decided to cart out that “box of lies.”

bonnvile hotel

Nothing that goes stomp in the night either. At least not on our watch.

Local legend (and a few regular guests) claims the Boonville Hotel is haunted, its spectral visitors dating back to the wild and wooly days of cowboys and pistols. So on your next stay in Boonville, after you’ve tucked in for the night, feel free to ignore the heavy pounding of cowboy boots and the sweep of the duster on the hardwood hallway floors. Sleep soundly knowing it is not all the wine you’ve consumed talking back.


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